Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 4
For 35 minutes of Villa-Arsenal, we were facing the same old story. Tons of Arsenal possession, a few chances, but nothing to show for it. Playing the opposition off the park, but hesitancy in front of goal costing Arsenal – sound familiar?
Then, Andrey Arshavin scored a brilliant goal, breaking from 45 yards out and I just kind of knew when he got the ball that it would end up in the back of the net. That is testament to what a world class player Arshavin is. Nasri should have made it 2-0 a minute later when he rounded the keeper but conspired to miss, but it mattered not as he did make it 2-0 from an Arshavin corner just before half-time, with the help of a deflection. That deflection was the first piece of luck we’d had in ages, and I thought it was a really important moment.
Of course, 2-0 at half-time meant it was the same new story. True to form, a few minutes after half-time we conceded a goal to let Villa back in it and my Twitter stream was full of everyone with the same sentiment – here we go again.
This helped the referee because how he escaped criticism for his handling of that Villa goal was unbelievable. If Carew had been interfering with Fabianski’s view any more, he would have been gouging his eyeballs out. It was really poor and these refereeing mistakes really are starting to get my goat. I know people can trot out stats about us being awarded a lot of penalties, but that doesn’t change the poor refereeing we’ve seen in the last couple of matches.
Luckily, Chamakh tucked a goal away a few minutes later so it wasn’t the entire second half we spent worrying; we got a break for 10 minutes before Clark scored another goal, as we conceded yet again from a set piece. We spent 20 minutes worrying that we were going to have a horrible case of déjà vu, before Little Jack Wilshere tucked one home at the end to make it safe. A 4-2 win, another away win, and it seems churlish to complain when we score four away. Particularly, as Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, and Laurent Koscielny were all excellent. After the criticism they had copped for their performances against Spurs, it was good to see them playing the way they can. It's become particularly fashionable to put down Koscielny, but he's only played a few games and the hyperbole about him being terrible is misguided.
Nonetheless, clearly while we continue to concede this number of goals, it seems unlikely we can win the League. We were top of the League for the first time this season, but not many defences will be as obliging as the Villa one. To be fair to us, the first Villa goal shouldn’t have stood, but equally we came out dreadfully from the interval. For that, the manager deserves criticism. The bad first halves appear to have turned into bad second halves. That we concede so many goals in the 15 minutes after half time, coupled with Wenger’s generally poor substitutions, is a really poor state of affairs.
That said, his substitutions from Saturday deserve some praise. Sure, one might question why he wasn’t more proactive and didn’t change things earlier; but equally, when he brought Gibbs and Denilson on and removed two attacking players, I feared the worst. As Villa didn’t have another chance, credit to Wenger.
I said we had to win the four games between Braga and United. Villa have been beaten, which leaves Wigan, Fulham and Partizan. Win those three matches and the United game, and we’ll be in the Carling Cup semi-final, top of the League, and in the Champions League last 16. If that doesn’t inspire the players, I don’t know what will.
Keep the faith.